A science and an art

For CBS undergraduate Ben Akhuetie-Oni, synthetic biology is a creative pursuit.

Ben Akhuetie-Oni is intrigued by the world of research. A biochemistry major active at the bench from the start, he appreciates the role of research in answering scientific questions. But, he’s also got some questions of his own.

Akhuetie-Oni also sees research as an opportunity to think in original and inventive ways. “You get to go to work and think about problems that interest you and come up with solutions or ideas that someone else in the field may not have had,” he says.

When he transferred to the U of M in 2012, Akhuetie-Oni knew he wanted to get involved in research. He landed in the lab of Dr. Eric Hendrickson, focusing on genomic engineering. Specifically, he characterizes a protein involved in the DNA double-stranded break repair pathway. He was quickly hooked by the possibilities. “I remember thinking right from the start about how being able to modify or manipulate the human genome was really fascinating,” says Akhuetie-Oni, who graduates this spring.

His experience with genomic engineering inspired a passion for synthetic biology that he plans to pursue starting this fall in graduate school at Yale University. Synthetic biology offers Akhuetie-Oni not only the opportunity to explore his interests, but also the chance to think outside the box in research. “I like looking at how nature is and then doing things with it,” he says. “There’s still so much left to explore and so much room for innovation in the field.”

In his quest to create, Akhuetie-Oni aspires to, among other things, genomically recode organisms and design complex structures made entirely out of DNA. Through this research, he sees the continued opportunity to be creative in his work.

“Doing research has made me realize that while a lot of people think that you’re limited — that so much has already been discovered in the field of x, y or z — with creativity and a passion to do something, you’re really not limited at all.”

— Lance Janssen